Niels Albert also fell during warmup in Belgium National Championships © Garry Ceuppens

Niels Albert also fell during warmup in Belgium National Championships © Garry Ceuppens

by Christine Vardaros

Niels Albert will most likely start on Sunday at the World Cup in Roubaix, France. The World Champion trained on Wednesday for three hours on the road with a taped chest to protect his broken rib. “The pain is bearable but the tape makes it hard to breath, manager Christoph Roodhooft told Het Nieuwsblad, adding, “Possibly Albert will get an injection for Sunday so he can ride. He will try to do what he can to defend his lead in the World Cup ranking.”

Due to mid-race interference from one of his own fans at last weekend’s  Belgian National Championships, Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) sustained an injury that he thought would hamper his performance, if not cause him to miss the penultimate round of the World Cup series set for this Sunday in Roubaix, France. Patrick Beniest, a race spectator, mistakenly hit his elbow, causing him to swerve across the icy course and crash twenty yards later. Albert’s stem impacted his chest to break his ninth rib on the right side of his body, exactly where the bike leans when he’s shouldering it.

In an interview immediately after the race, Albert was quick to name the culprit as a Sven Nys supporter because, when he looked back immediately after falling, he saw a collection of Nys supporters clapping for him. It was later discovered that it was one of his own fans who was wearing his Albert supporter cap during the incident. Since then, the man has publicly apologized to Albert for hitting him with his arm, blaming the special shoes he needs to wear for his bad back combined with the icy ground and too much beer. Albert has also apologized to Nys for his hastiness in calling the guy a Nys fan.

Niels Albert, Belgian National Championships © Garry Ceuppens

Niels Albert, Belgian National Championships © Garry Ceuppens

Albert and Nys talked on the phone last Monday evening to focus on solutions moving forward. Together they plan to propose increased safety measures to the Belgian Cycling Federation. One of their ideas it to have double ribbon fences on the sections of the course that are most vulnerable to spectator interference, such as in the turns. This will leave an empty area between spectators and racers.

Last Tuesday, Albert rode a few kilometers on the street and found that the flat roads are no problem, but the pesky speed bumps that are common in Belgium are very painful. Riding uphill at the moment is not possible for him.

His injury removed him from the start line at Otegem last Monday and may keep him from starting at other events as well. In addition, he may lose his overall title in the World Cup, which is also a big financial loss. Nonetheless, his BKCP-Powerplus team has decided not to take legal action due to lack of concrete evidence such as television coverage of the incident.

As for Roubaix, he told VTM earlier in the week, “It will possibly be too early for me. The chance will be 50/50. If I start it will be just to save my World Cup ranking.” Those odds have apparently improved as Albert know looks fairly certain of making the start. He is currently in the lead over Zdenek Stybar by 20 points and Nys by 90 points.

On Thursday he will have another scan of the injury so the doctor can decide if he should get a painkiller shot for Roubaix, the only treatment available for such an injury. Even so, he remains hopeful, saying, “Maybe for the next races I’ll have to ride a little easier. I will probably be more fresh at the start of the World Championship because of this.” We’ve seen him recover miraculously to grab the World title after his spleen injury sustained at Superprestige Gavere in November of last year. Maybe this can be a repeat performance.